IN his days as a teacher, Huddersfield Town manager Danny Cowley would have viewed Lewis O’Brien as something akin to a model pupil.
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I had to dig deep at Bradford. But that season has gone now and it has made me the player I am today.Lewis O’Brien
Humble and blessed with a thirst for knowledge, with the aptitude and drive to match.
In short, the sort of kid who you just cannot get enough of; someone whose natural enthusiasm is also infectious when you observe him.
Now in his second career as a football manager, Cowley has instantly recognised those qualities in someone he instructs in O’Brien and Terriers supporters cannot have failed to arrive at that very same conclusion.
After a breakthrough loan season at West Yorkshire neighbours Bradford City where the midfielder ‘got some wool on his back’ and was given a crash-course in the slings and arrows of EFL fortune in a character-building and at times fraught campaign, O’Brien was mentally prepared for stepping up at his parent club.
That said, the rate of his progression has been eye-catching. To become one of Town’s key players in the space of a few months is no mean feat; more especially given the fact that he does not turn 21 until Monday.
Football-wise, he has already come of age, with his dynamic weekend show against Hull City hammering home that fact.
Reflecting on his side’s cathartic victory, a beaming Cowley saiid: “Lewis covered every blade of grass and I look forward to seeing his GPS (player-tracking statistics) and if he has not blown it up as he was incredible.
“I felt so proud of him and I have only known him for 26 days. He is a local boy and I am sure the town can be proud of his performance and fight. We have to carry that and play with that will.
“He is a really good kid and a good learner and you only have to tell him once. He just wants to add to his game and wants to improve and is very humble. He is at a working-class club and is a working-class kid.”
Up the road at Bradford last season, O’Brien had to work things out for himself and toughen up mentally during a season when the Bantams hit rock-bottom, with his consistent form being one of the few redeeming features of a pretty grim campaign for the claret and amber.
The tone was set when Bantams chief Michael Collins was sacked, just three days after O’Brien signed on loan.
Derided as a “nobody” by some City supporters on social media when he joined in August, 2018, O’Brien quickly became a somebody and did not hide when the club’s season unravelled either.
To gain a physical edge, the 20-year-old even took matters into his own hands, purchasing his own gym membership to enable him to pump iron for longer.
At the time, Bradford shared gym facilities with Woodhouse Grove School, where they train.
Matters on the pitch also forged an inner steel within O’Brien and allowed him to find his voice as he drew strength from adversity.
He reflected: “Because it was a bad time, I feel like that helped me a lot more to become the person and player I am today.
“I think that if everything had gone well and we were in this situation now, I would be completely different. But because it was a bad time at Bradford, it made me a better person.
“I did not speak to anyone when I (first) went. Then, after a few weeks, you just start going out of your shell. I am different now and speak to everyone and get along with everyone.
“I had to dig deep at Bradford. But that season has gone now and it has made me the player I am today.
“I am just focusing on this season and, hopefully, we can get out of the situation we are in.”
The sight of several others coming to the fore among Town’s young brigade in Saturday’s excellent victory over Yorkshire rivals Hull City was another significant development at the weekend as Cowley was the first to acknowledge.
O’Brien’s ebullient presence in the No 10 brief more than made up for the unavailability of Alex Pritchard, while Jaden Brown’s fine display on the left-hand side of defence mitigated for the loss of Terence Kongolo.
The sight of Adama Diakhaby, who has palpably struggled with confidence during his time at the club, taking the game to Hull’s harassed defence was another key facet on a renaissance afternoon for Town, who ended a potentially definitive week in their season in fine style.
On Brown and Diakhaby, Cowley added: “He (Brown) has done brilliant. I thought it would be a test, particularly playing against one of the top players in the Championship (in Jarrod Bowen).
“But I thought his one-v-one defending was excellent and he got out on the overlap where possible.
“He also had a good chance in the first half and he has had a really good week.
“Adama looked a real threat. He has impacted the team so well from the bench and is too good a player just to be a game-changer. We felt it was the right moment for him and he showed an athleticism.”